Motor Racing: Senna on slippery pole
Though Schumacher was initially superior on this tight, twisting little circuit nestling in a mountainous region of the Okayama prefecture, Senna attacked strongly on Friday in a Williams that has made a degree of progress since Schumacher's surprise victory in the Brazilian Grand Prix three weeks ago. Senna, however, was noticeably on the ragged edge as he squeezed ahead of Schumacher's Benetton-Ford to snatch the prime honour. The German's counter-attack was then hampered by an experimental suspension set-up that compromised his car's handling.
Yesterday, giving the lie to expectations of snow, the weather was too warm to allow any significant improvements in lap times. That did not stop Senna or his Williams-Renault team-mate Damon Hill trying to better their speeds, but as Schumacher sat in the cockpit of his car, monitoring their progress, both of them lost control and spun. 'It is worrying,' Patrick Head, the Williams technical director, said, 'because both of them spun at the same corner and using the same set-up. We don't yet know if they were just trying too hard or whether something fundamental is amiss.'
'Unfortunately, the track conditions meant we did not have the exciting final qualifying we had all hoped for,' Schumacher said, 'but I think it is better to be second on the grid and first in the race.'
Though he is sandwiched between the Williams drivers on the grid, the pressure on Senna, the pre-season favourite, is greater. It is some while since the Brazilian began a season 10 points adrift of his main rival after the opening race, and the feeling is that today's encounter will favour the nimble Benetton.
Though the struggle between the king and the young pretender was predictable, other aspects of this race have defied expectations. The organisation has been smooth, the weather clement, and even the bus service ferrying media and spectators along the single-track road leading to the circuit has been a model of Japanese efficiency. Though neither the circuit owner Hajime Tanaka nor Bernie Ecclestone, the vice-president of marketing of the governing body, FIA, would admit it, what many saw as a one-off race may now become a fixture.
A successful race today will almost certainly set the seal on such a deal, but the restrictive nature of the circuit is taxing the teams, who expect a tough encounter over 83 laps. The more pessimistic drivers say there is only one likely place for overtaking. Others, such as Martin Brundle, speak of up to three.
Like his McLaren-Peugeot team-mate Mika Hakkinen, the British driver did not run yesterday, preferring to save his tyres for the race itself, where many anticipate that tyres, tactics and tow trucks will prove the key factors.
Latest in Sport
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...
World Cup 2014: Neymar's agent launches scathing attack on Brazil's Luis Felipe Scolari, labelling him 'an old jerk, arrogant, repulsive, conceited and ridiculous'
Loic Remy to Arsenal? Gunners close in on move for QPR and France striker - reports
World Cup 2014: The 50 best players of the World Cup
PornHub begs users to stop uploading video clips of Brazil getting beaten 7-1
- 1 Howard Jacobson: Let's see the 'criticism' of Israel for what it really is
- 3 Belgium fan Axelle Despiegelaere lands L'Oreal campaign after World Cup viral photo
- 4 Britney Spears sings 'Alien' without Auto-Tune in embarrassingly brilliant leaked audio clip
- 5 PornHub begs users to stop uploading video clips of Brazil getting beaten 7-1
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
Australia facing international condemnation after turning around Sri Lankans at sea
7/7 memorial defaced on anniversary of 2005 attacks with ‘Blair lied thousands died’ graffiti
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
There’s a nasty smell in the political air – and it’s coming from the Tories
Vanessa Feltz criticises 'vile' reaction to Rolf Harris allegations
£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...
£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...
£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...
£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...